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09 June 2020

Family History with Young Kids… While Sheltering In Place

This blog post was contributed by Marisa Louie Lee.

I was making some exciting strides in my genealogy research this year until mid-March, when my daughter’s preschool closed and landed her at home with her younger sister and me. We’ve since filled our days with class Zoom meetings, sidewalk chalk, watching lettuce grow in the backyard, crafting with toilet paper tubes, and lots of yoga on YouTube… and lately, a few family history projects. While visiting research rooms or meeting up with other researchers is in the distant future, I can still work on something just as important as piecing together the past: fostering a love for family history and their cultural heritage in my kids.

For children, especially those under the age of 5, identity is tied to family. Understanding family traditions and being able to share family narratives strengthens one’s pride in family, building confidence and self-esteem. With this foundation, children can better understand differences among their peers and build relationships with others. Here are some ways you can introduce family history to young children while sheltering in place.

Making Chinese turnip cake at home
Cooking Family Recipes: The food of Shelter in Place is definitely comfort food – and what’s more comforting than what your family has made for generations? Share the stories that go along with the recipes. Was there a special plate that your grandmother used to serve the cake? Was this casserole a special food for holidays or birthdays? If you don’t have a family recipe for something you enjoyed as a child, find one online and refine it until it feels and tastes right. We made my mother-in-law’s favorite Chinese turnip cake (lo bak go) for the first time last month. An aunt has also been perfecting her Hong Kong-style egg custard tart (daan tat) recipe, and our kids have happily eaten all of the trial tarts left on our doorstep.

Thumbs up for homemade custard tarts!
Family Photo Sharing on Zoom: On Mother’s Day, our extended family gathered on Zoom. We devoted part of our meeting to sharing and talking about family pictures. My daughter loves seeing photos of adults as children, so she was enthralled by a photo from her great-great-grandmother’s birthday party in the 1960s. Best of all, the Zoom meeting was recorded so we are able to go back and listen to everyone’s reminiscences. This would be an excellent activity for a family member who’d like to offer some virtual babysitting to busy parents.  

Cemetery Visits: Instead of taking a walk at a local park, why not visit a local cemetery? This would have to be carefully planned and obviously may not be appropriate for every child. Our children are very comfortable at cemeteries because we visit twice yearly for Chinese grave cleaning days in the spring and fall. Visit the grave of an ancestor and share a story, or find a grave and discover ways to find out more about that individual and the time period in which they lived. My daughter talks about time and history comparatively to people and things she is familiar with: was this person alive when her parents or grandparents were born? Which famous Disney movies – like Snow White (1937) or Cinderella (1950) – were around then? Were there cars or did people ride horses?

Visiting Hoy Sun Cemetery in Colma
Honoring family on Memorial Day
COVID-19 Time Capsule: Document the history happening now. What is it like sheltering in place with your family? How are you celebrating holidays and special occasions? What are your favorite books, movies, and pastimes right now? This COVID-19 time capsule by LONG Creations is designed for young children to complete and color with some adult assistance.

Some books from our family library
Picture Books on Family History: Read books on family history, particularly any that relate to your child’s culture and ancestors. My daughter will eventually learn more fully about the Chinese Exclusion Act and Chinese communities in the Sacramento Delta, but for now we can talk about immigrant journeys and the meanings of our names. Some recent fantastic picture books with a thread about family history and heritage include Islandborn by Junot Díaz and Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal. You can also find books specifically about family trees and genealogical research, such as My Family Tree and Me by Dušan Petričić. If you don’t mind using a tablet or electronic device to read with your child, these may be available as e-books from your local public library. I’ve developed a reading list in my San Francisco Public Library account with these and other titles.

Many thanks to friends and colleagues in genealogy and parenthood Linda Harms Okazaki, Asia Yee Mountz, and Petra Fraties for their input and contributions to this blog post. This article published on the Your DNA Guide blog further discusses family narratives and building resilience in children.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society


Chris Pattillo, FASLA said...

This is a wonderful Quarantine Quests story. Thanks for sharing.

Georgia said...

Thank you so much for this insightful post about family and genealogy. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the past and forget that this very time we are experiencing will one day be the past. We need to be in the moment and talk with our children, build the special memories that will one day spark their interest in what those special moments were for their ancestors. Your activities and resources for involving children in thinking about family were delightful. Thank you Marisa.